Environmental Problems in South Kivu

In June 2009 I visited Bukavu in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I did a seminar on Ecological Restoration at the Universite Evangelique en Afrique (UEA). Researchers there, including the rector of the UEA, agronomist Gustave Mushagulusa, limnologist Pascal Isumbisho, and director of the Natural Sciences Research Centre Katcho Karume, also introduced me to some of the environmental problems and potential research problems of the East. We are hoping that the seminar will be the first of a longer engagement between York and UEA, and the seminar was conducted with that hope. We prepared a report (in French) about the seminar, including all the presentations that were made, as well as the proposal for an Environmental Studies program at UEA.

Read the report here (en francais). My presentation on Ecological Restoration was translated by Brittaney Caron.

Here are some photos and some descriptions of the problems.

This is the view of Bukavu from the top of the hill. Bukavu has a very temperate climate (around 20 degrees C), although global warming has destabilized it somewhat. The city has undergone rapid changes in the past few years, with a large number of people coming from the countryside, mainly because of security concerns, but also because the roads are so poor that markets for agriculture are inaccessible.

This is a view from the road. Construction is unplanned, roads are in poor condition, and there is an 'infrastructure deficit'. Basic services and food are inaccessible for many, and problems of deforestation and erosion are also occurring as people search for (expensive) fuel.

Some of the hills around Bukavu are totally denuded, partially because of the search for fuel, partially because of the insecurity meaning people can't continuously cultivate or take care of an area.

Another example of "anarchic construction" - houses are built right up to the edge of Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu is itself a fascinating lake. Sitting on top of a huge methane deposit, it is unique because its temperature is higher near the bottom than it is at the top. There is no adequate model for Lake Kivu and it represents a huge gap for limnology!

Another view of Lake Kivu

Another field trip was to a quarry on the road to Lwiro, where the Natural Science Research Centre is. The quarry produces stone for building in Bukavu. Like most mining in the eastern DRC, this is artesanal mining. The miners are paid piecework rates.

Professor Gustave Mushagulusa, rector of UEA, at the quarry.

The Universite Evangelique en Afrique has four faculties: Agronomy, Medicine, Economics, and Theology. It has about 4000 students and is moving toward starting an Environmental faculty. It's also looking to partner with other institutions to work on research and other exchanges.

The Natural Sciences Research Centre is an old colonial Belgian centre converted to a Congolese research centre. It hosts the best library in Central Africa and excellent potential facilities, but there's a lack of cash for specific projects.

The Centre has amazing old maps of wildlife abundances and locations (this is a map of gorilla locations) going back decades. This all needs to be digitized and studied. It would take some equipment, some training, and some student time. Geographic Information Systems and mapping projects exist in abundance, as does data not in digital form. The best maps and surveys that do exist are owned by the mining companies - not available for academic research.

The Centre also has a rehabilitation centre for apes, who turn up because their habitats have been lost. This is a stopover on the way back to reintroduction, probably to a national park.